Sounding precisely the same, yet with different meanings, these two phrases shouldn’t be used interchangeably. But, worry not as awhile vs. a while is a common grammar confusion with a simple solution.
Awhile vs. a while
As you’ve probably noticed, the only difference in the spelling of these two phrases is the single space in “a while.” However, there are a few things to remember when it comes to their meaning and the type of word.
“Awhile” means “for a period of time,” usually a short amount of time, and it’s used as an adverb modifying verbs.
She waited awhile for the taxi.
“A while,” on the other hand, means “a period of time,” and it’s a noun phrase.
After a while, she came back.
Awhile or a while—common uses & phrases
The only time you can use “awhile” is when you want to say “for a while” while modifying a verb. In the example above, “awhile” modifies the verb “waited,” so it functions as an adverb.
In all other cases, we use “a while.” You can find it in many phrases such as “it’s been a while,” “it takes quite a while,” “a while ago,” and “after a while.”
“It’s been a while,” meaning
This is one of the most common phrases, including “a while,” meaning it has been a long time since something happened.
It’s been a while since we last talked.
“It takes quite a while,” meaning
We use this phrase when we want to say that something takes a long time to happen, whether that’s minutes, hours, or years, depending on the situation.
Writing the essay may take quite a while.
“A while ago” meaning
The meaning of this phrase is “some time ago.”
She was here a while ago.
“After a while” meaning
This phrase means after some time has passed.
After a while, she agreed with me.
“For a while” or “for awhile”
It’s “for a while” because prepositions like “for” can follow only nouns or pronouns.
I sat down for a while.